A strong winter storm could drop between 80 and 100 inches of snow in the Sierra over the next week starting Tuesday, which could make a mess out of holiday travel through the mountains.
The storm will also bring a long stretch of rain into the Sacramento Valley, though not like the deluges that passed through last week and in October.
"The best way to describe this is it's kind of just opening a storm door that is just pushing continuous rain and snow into California and starting Tuesday, but really picking up later on Wednesday," said Anna Wanless, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
A series of winter storms will bring several feet of snow to #NorCal mountains this week. Expect significant holiday travel delays, with hazardous conditions expected. Heaviest snow is expected Wednesday evening through the weekend. Plan ahead now! #CAwx pic.twitter.com/ee6lz1zkpf— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) December 21, 2021
Wanless said the storm's impact will be spread out over nearly a week from Tuesday into next Monday, Dec. 27. But with heavy travel expected around the Christmas holiday, more people may be affected than usual.
"These systems that we're seeing coming through, they're not anything crazy that we haven't seen before," she said. "It's just the fact that they're coming back to back and during the Christmas week, so we know a lot of people are going to be traveling up towards Lake Tahoe over the Sierra. So for that reason, it's going to be pretty impactful."
Wanless said that if you do need to travel to try to get where you're going by Tuesday or early Wednesday, and then be ready for "chain control, travel delays and have an emergency kit in your car."
Raquel Borrayo, a spokesperson for Caltrans, said while she would normally recommend people delay travel around a storm like this, she knows it's unlikely people will push back their holiday gatherings. If you do travel, she says be ready for major delays on Interstate 80 and Highway 50.
"I mean, 80 to 100 inches is not something to laugh about," Borrayo said. "That's a significant amount of snowfall in the coming week."
While Borrayo said it's possible freeways could be shut down because of the snow, it's more likely a crash or stall would block the road. Her main suggestion to drivers going through mountains this week is to slow down.
"When we have chain controls on I-80, the speed limit is only 30 miles per hour," she said. "If you are not slowing down and driving safely for the weather conditions, then you are more prone to spinning out, colliding with another vehicle. And incidents like that, that is what closes the highway especially, and really snarls traffic and causes significant delays."
Meanwhile, in the valley, Wanless with the NWS said you can expect 2-3 inches of rain over the next week.
"So it'll just be kind of just long-lived, light to sometimes moderate rain," Wanless said.
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